In the late 19th century, a famous American novelist, Mark Twain, coined the term “the gilded age.” Historically, the Gilded Age was a period between 1858 and 1898 where America had just emerged out of the Civil War. The period was marked with phenomenal economic growth, especially in the North and the West parts of the country. Consequently, there was massive immigration of people from Europe to America, as the country had better paying salaries, especially for skilled workers. As illustrated by Mark Twain, the “gilded age” meant a period of glittering opportunities, but underneath it was laden with massive corruption. The corruption was as a result of inept government leadership, weak policies, and overrun politics. Considerably, bureaucratic leadership flourished both in the public and private sectors. In retrospect, this form of bureaucracy flourished in the government since it was a political, social, and economic strategy to control the people and the country’s resources.
Bureaucracy propagated and sustained political parties’ agenda. After the Civil War, the political parties, under President Grant’s leadership, experienced some major realignment. Thus, the political parties adopted a “laisser-faire” approach (Lecture 13 “Politics”). That is, they would hardly take a strong lead against corruption for fear of losing voters. Therefore, the political processes in the government were run by unscrupulous business men, aptly referred to as ‘robbers’ barons,’ who felt that they could control their own agenda directly or indirectly. Industrial capitalists like Andrew Carnegie controlled the government through the backdoor, while others bought governorship and senatorial seats to influence politics directly (Lecture10” industrialization”). These “political machines” controlled the election processes through fraud and bribery. At the time, it was not uncommon to see inefficient congressmen laden with corrupt dealings to enrich themselves. Unfortunately, political parties were evenly split on corruption. For instance, The Republicans, who were majorly in the northern regions, supported a non-accommodative business tariff. This ensured that businesses flourished through protective tariffs, decreased worker’s benefits, and strong monetary policies. Consequently, the power balance was titled towards the large corporations, thereby creating a social strata of the few and wealthy American families (Lecture10” industrialization”).
On the other hand, ‘the little people’ who were largely the farmers and the small businessmen had to cut through a lot of red tape bureaucracy to get help that they wanted. Fortunately, sanity in American business practice came under control during Benjamin Harrison leadership when he signed the 1877 Interstate Commerce Act (Sage American History par 47). This act led to the gradual abolishment of business monopolies in the rail road services. Bureaucracy was adopted since it sustained a capitalist business environment. Capitalism was utilized by business technocrats, as an efficient way to control the country’s resources and wealth. In addition, politicians preferred corporation to small companies. In effect, they supported industrial gains over workers’ conflict. For instance, when the Homestead Strike occurred at Carnegie steel factory, the police were sent to instill calm among striking workings using forceful means. The businessmen viewed striking workers as lazy people who wanted to get more without working for it. Thus, workers’ disputes such as reduced wages, increased working hours, and poor working conditions could not be resolved effectively without political interference. On the other hand, bureaucracy flourished as it was supported by Social Darwinism. The fundamental economy of American liberalism was shifted towards the ideology of capitalism and laisser-faire system in the Gilded Age (Benedict 223).
Thus, the Social Darwinist believed that the political and economic markets should be left to control themselves. This was a view strongly supported by politicians and businessmen. In the Gilded Age, only the businesses that survived cut throat competition, bloody fights, and crooked politicians managed to survive. The small producers and farmers were hardest hit by crooked businessmen who monopolized the rail transport system and caused oversupply of agricultural goods through excessive imports. However, these inequalities were quashed by the Interstate Act, which prohibited exorbitant fees on rail transport. Later, the creation of the first civil service, under President Arthur, ended the “spoils system.” (Lecture 13 “Presidents”) Arthur signed into law the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act in 1883, which established job classification systems (Sage American History par 37). This meant that people could not be employed on patronage but rather, through the newly formed Civil Service Commission.
Conversely, the failures of antidemocratic movements and capitalism led to formation of new systems of government. For a long time, the business community was left the control on its own. However, the business community favored extreme capitalism and increased inequalities between the rich and the poor. When ordinary citizens were unable to limit corporate capitalism using democracy in the 1890s, the liberal reformers became champions of administrative change (Benedict 224). Therefore, during the Progressive Era, President Theodore Roosevelt led reformists in formalized control of businesses by the government (George Washington University par 1). Roosevelt championed for his ‘square deals’ where the average citizens would benefit from cheap food, control of railroad, and quality drugs (Lecture 11 “Reforms”). Other reforms led by President Theodore Roosevelt included an end to monopolies in business through the U.S antitrust laws. These antitrust laws led to the breaking up of industrial monopolies by prohibiting unfair business practice and anticompetitive business setups.
Politically, local and national politicians had been affected by the runway corruption in the Gilded Age. However, during the Progressive Era, sanitization efforts were made through reforms in the economic and political systems of government. These reforms included breaking up of monopolies, supporting worker’s unions, and increased federal intervention in cities management. There were ‘reference bureaus’ set up to check the efficiencies of City’s Department and professional workers were left in charge of managing day to day activities of the City and State governments.
In retrospect, it is clear that bureaucracy was favored in America since it encouraged industrial monopolies, capitalism, and massive corruption. Essentially, bureaucracy championed for political, economic and social reward to the people in the government. However, liberal reformers were able to rescue the government from its own entanglement through solid reforms in the economic and politics.